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Atheists challenge ‘Heaven’ on New York City street sign
July 6th, 2011
04:47 PM ET

Atheists challenge ‘Heaven’ on New York City street sign

By Samantha Stamler, CNN

New York (CNN) - A new street sign that reads “Seven in Heaven Way,” and that was recently unveiled in Brooklyn, New York, to commemorate seven local firefighters who lost their lives in the September 11, 2001 attacks has drawn the ire of some atheists, who say they’re prepared to go to court to have the sign taken down.

New York City Atheists, a group that opposes the public use of religious references, is challenging the new sign, which was erected in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood.

“We’re supposed to be a secular nation - there really should not be any religious symbolism or signage in public places,” said Kenneth Bronstein, President of New York City Atheists. “We feel that any and all people who died in 9-11 should be remembered and honored. That’s not the problem.”

Bronstein calls the sign a violation of the separation of church and state, arguing that the word “heaven” is a clear reference to Christianity.

Bronstein has contacted the city with his complaint and has proposed an alternative street name: “We Remember the 7-911.”

Groups dedicated to honoring 9/11 victims did not immediately reply to requests for comment on Bronstein’s campaign.

But some New Yorkers told CNN New York affiliate WPIX that they disagree with the New York City Atheists.

"That's nonsense,” said Anbriena Insausti, who lives in Manhattan. “The families should honor their loved ones anyway they want."

Bronstein says the group is prepared to sue the city over the sign and what it says are other unconstitutional government endorsements of religion.

“This is not a matter of faltering patriotism or public ignorance, but rather an effort to promote secularism,” he said. “We want [the sign] to be neutral. Anyone can believe whatever they want to believe.”

“We’ll die for the right to believe,” he continued. “Just don’t shove it down our throat.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • New York

soundoff (3,096 Responses)
  1. Merry K

    I find THIS protest to be embarrassing as an atheists/non-theist. If the men they are honoring would be ok with the "7 in Heaven" name, then leave it alone. It's not harming us in any way. Geez

    July 7, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
    • Jan

      That's common sense.........

      July 7, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
    • Darforthewin

      disagree. its a rather insidious ploy to use tax dollars to sneak religious views on to public property. It's exploiting these individuals, not honoring them.

      July 8, 2011 at 12:24 am |
    • Biff

      Dar wins. Tar and feather these subversive elements and run them out of town!

      July 8, 2011 at 6:50 am |
  2. John

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGSvqMBj-ig&w=640&h=360]
    p

    July 7, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
    • What?

      Wow, you have no talent. Try practicing more instead of spamming this video and you may get better. Very amateurish and predictable.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
  3. Jersey

    In modern day American language "Heaven" is a general, English word for a concept embraced by many different religions, cultures & individuals. For some it's an almost mythical ideology.
    So what on earth is wrong with a quaint, rhyming memorial on a public sreet sign that brings to mind images of our public fallen heroes basking in the rewards of whatever beautiful idea of an afterlife they may have held in their hearts in life?

    July 7, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
    • Dan Watson

      What about the city of Valhalla and Little Heaven? Should they be forced to rename their cities and remove all street signs related to their fair towns?

      July 7, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
  4. Nitrogen

    I agree with NCYA. Religious references on public property should be phased out. Existing ones have the potential of being grandfathered in, but why perpetuate this issue? What if the seven were Muslim? Would people be OK with "Seven with Allah" on this 9/11 memorial? Secularize it or put it on private property.

    July 7, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
    • Jersey

      It's not the gov't supporting a religion in this case, this is a memorial. I wonder if any of these intolerant people with nothing better to do other than to rally against a street shave ever even considered the very people this sign was put in place to memorialize? What were the fallen heroes' beliefs?

      July 7, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
    • Nitrogen

      Another issue: were all seven of these firefighters confirmed Christians? Who chose the seven firefighters? How were they chosen? In other words, did they create this memorial specifically for christian firefighters? If so, where are the street signs for the firefighters of other religions?

      July 7, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
  5. WrshipWarior

    You have got to be kidding! Atheists are ranting over a street name? Why should they be concerned if they don't even acknowledge the existence of heaven in the first place? How sad.
    I am a Christian with morals. I say Lancaster County, PA should rename the town of Intercourse to something a little less suggestive... 🙂

    July 7, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
    • What?

      A Christian with morals? So you vote Democrat?

      July 7, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • Frank

      LOL. That's funny.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
  6. Frank

    I'm a strong Atheist. I generally tolerate other beliefs, provided they aren't forced on me or my children.
    I strongly disagree with this action by this group. I think "heaven" can be interpreted as cultural as well as religious. I think this group is wasting resources that would be better used to combat real threats to the individual liberties of Atheists (like employment discrimination). At best this is picking nits. At worst it is souring public opinion against Atheists, thus encouraging the hatred and discrimination that they should be fighting against. Not all Atheists are this nuts. IMHO

    July 7, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • DrDiomedes

      @Frank. Good points.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • WrshipWarior

      @Frank: I can appreciate that you see the insanity in all of this.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
  7. Marie

    Obviously atheist are paranoid. Live and let live!!! If you not believe in heaven, fine, treat it as a fictional book, I'm sure you read plenty of those.

    July 7, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
    • The Dude

      Atheists rank under the Taliban as far as prejudice goes. There have been polls that consistently show this. I think they have a right considering Christianity's history of torture, killing and Conquest.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • Sybaris

      Actually Marie most atheists know more about religion and why they don't believe than those that do.

      July 7, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
    • Scott

      if christians had treated atheists with a "live and let live" atti_tude they wouldn't be haveing this problem now. In fact if all isums and ists would treat each other that way we wouldn't have nearly so many problems now. It's a fine creed but to make it work everyone has to do it

      July 8, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  8. lin

    "the god dellusion" book by stephen hawkins try reading it sometime instead of a fairy tale book written by men to control others . so many people killed , maimed and lied to in the name of imaginary gods (yes i said gods ) but then again theirs lots of money to be made off of religion . i for one am glad i finally awakened to reality am i sad their is no heaven ..no i now know that i should do all i can to make myselff and others happy and turn a blind eye and ear to hypocrites who sit in church and look down on others and say thou shalt not judge and pick and choose what parts out of the bible they do and beleive in . what do they call an athiest at a funeral ? all dressed up and no place to go ... what do they call religious people at a funeral ? all dressed up and no place to go!

    July 7, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
    • raptor12

      The God Delusion was written by Richard Dawkins not Stephen Hawking.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • Dan Watson

      The bible has been altered and abused for power, but it's source is divine. There is a digital like device just beyond our normal vision where you could copy the text down for yourself. Believing that man can destroy the idea of G-d through science is the only fools errand, it will eventually prove Him, if science figures out what to ask.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • the real john

      you seem to have had a bad stint with religion. more power to you. i think you need to realize the bible, nor church, nor the people that go there have anything to do with God, other than giving their opinions, or channeling his love. choose what you will but never let a person step between you and your faith. if you choose not to believe in heaven, its for the same reason you chose to in the first place. a man told you so. look into your heart, your mind, your soul. it will guide you on the path you should be on. Books by hawking or whoever are just books, like the bible. stories, opinions, and rules. choose your path wisely. but make it YOURS.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • Scott

      @the real john: I didn’t really become an atheist until I decide to read the bible. I didn’t get very far. Man there is nasty stuff in those first 5 books. Evil, war, genocide, fratricide, ince$t, adultery, patricide, r_ape, child mole$tation and slaughter of the entire population of entire cities (every man, woman, child and even animal) in city after city … and that was the good guys .

      July 7, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
    • Dan Watson

      LoLz, so you stopped reading the bible because of the historical part not even the faith based portion of the book?

      July 7, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
    • Sybaris

      Watson, you cannot prove the divinity of your Bible. Some of the books even have unknown authors. It wasn't even "The Bible" until some old men decied what books it should include.............................. so what, the books left out didn't have a divine source? Rubbish! It's just a book of tales.

      July 7, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • Dan Watson

      I could actually prove the divine exists if given the chance. G-d is not just an esoteric idea or the focus of blind faith. There is a world beyond this one that you can literally see in front of you if you learn how to suspend judgement and engage the truth. The illusion of this world is quite convincing, but not impermeable. On December 29th 2010, I was able to pass through the eye of the needle into the realm of pure light. The truth is right in front of you, you need only seek it out.

      July 7, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • Dan Watson

      Also, I am not Christian, Jew or Muslim. I found G-d without following these traditions or the bible. He's here and so are his Angels waiting to show us the way home. The abyssal plane is quite dark, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

      July 7, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  9. Anonymous P@TRI0T (S3kshuN8)

    having not read anything yet...(all I can say is "WOW") Let that sign stand! Athiests go phlick a BIC on this one... Having been an Atheist at an earlier point in my life, now loosely falling into the category of 'borderline agnostic', (borderline Gnostic); I still have not seen a thread as active as this one right here. Work continues in other areas of interest...

    July 7, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  10. The Dude

    Need to focus on going back to the old pledge get it out of our schools unless it is a comparative religious course and getting it off of our money.

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eqKb5ViN_Q&w=640&h=360]

    July 7, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • the real john

      i wish CNN would ban people from inserting videos.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • The Dude

      And I wish stupid Christians would stop breeding, but you can't always get what you want, ya know?

      July 7, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • the real john

      i can see school just let out..

      July 7, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
  11. Beliver

    OUR COUNTRY WAS FOUND ON RELIGION! CHRISTIANITY!!! I THINK THE ATHEISTS NEED TO LEAVE OUR CONTRY ALONE!! THAT ONE GOOD THING ABOUT AMERICA, YOU CAN BELIVE IN WHAT YOU WANT TO BELIEVE IN! THATS WHY MEN AND WOMEN SERVE OUR COUNTRY EVERYDAY FOR OUR FREEDOM TO CHOOSE! JUST LEAVE THE SIGN ALONE!!! IGNORE IT!!!!

    July 7, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • raptor12

      You do know that people like Thomas Jefferson who wrote the majority of the Declaration of Independance worked extremely hard to get separation of church and state you would know that if you had passed the fifth grade.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
    • DrDiomedes

      Disclaimer: The following is sarcasm: Not only are we a Christian nation, as the majority of the Founding Fathers were Christian. We are also a white nation, as they were all Caucasian Europeans. Come to think of it, we are a male nation, too, because all the founding fathers were men. So if you are not a white male Christian of European descent, then you are as un-american as un-apple pie. Screw individual liberties, that's not what the Founding Fathers fought for; majority rules! In other words, what a stupid statement you've made.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
    • Dan Watson

      Actually, the founding fathers were masons. Though they believe in 1 God, they do not necessarily follow Christian dogma. That's what they were trying to get away from.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • Sybaris

      Oh Beliver, stop watching Fox News and reading urban legends passed around by your ultra-conservative over 65 friends....................and writing in all caps doesn't make what you're saying important.

      July 7, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • Shadowflash1522

      Actually, this country was founded on freedom *from* religion. A very, very specific religion called the Church of England, which just so happens to be a sect of Christianity. Your post, though, enthusiastic, does not signify.

      July 8, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
  12. awww some one's feelings got hurt

    guess, they will have to put a gate on the street and the atheists will not be allowed down it cause they would get lost due to it being a place that doesnt exist!

    July 7, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • Dan Watson

      Heaven does exist. I am surprised more people have not found it's front door yet. Learn to meditate and you will find the great Stop and Yield signs of the universe. And google image search the tree of life, that's the map of the celestial Heaven that's just beyond our sight.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • What?

      You can spend the next 20 years meditating to get a mild taste or you can eat 2 grams of shrooms and know what its all about. You will realize there is no god.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
    • Scott

      I would be perfectly happy to let the sign stay if a major cross street would be named Evolution Ave.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
    • Dan Watson

      God exists. I have been to His kingdom and met his Angels. What science will eventually realize is that this reality is a projection and all this time science has been studying an illusion created by a projector, not the basis of the universe.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
  13. Matt

    Atheists who complain about everything are just as bad as the people who tell you that you are going to hell for not believing in God. Just shut up already....

    July 7, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • Frank

      That is awesome! I couldn't have said it better myself. I see this as crying wolf when you see a squirrel. When the wolf really comes, no one will care. As an Atheist, I want people to care if I am being denied my civil liberties or discriminated against. Well put, Matt.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • Scott

      Unfortunately, tolerance is noticeably lacking in the land of theology

      July 7, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
  14. grvol

    Yes Shanden, I'm an atheist. And no one believes in separation of church and state more than me. But attacking a road sign? Come on. Get a life people. Grow up, get a job and move out of Daddy's basement. After you work for about 10 years, you'll give up your liberal activism out of financial necessity and become a republican or at the very least an independent. Liberalism is for childrem and morons. Or adults who still live at home. Learn about what made this country great. It was not made by common sense-less idiots like those who would seek to remove a road sign.

    July 7, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • Frank

      Why would you turn this into a political "liberal vs. republican" issue? This has nothing to do with politics. You sound more like a partisan hack than a rational Atheist.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
  15. Philip Porembski

    If you didn't want people to break the law you wouldn't put people in jail and prison, see because in order for you to put people in prison and jail the people need to break the law and thats something you do which is put people in jail and prison contrary to your don't break the law , you want people to break the law because in order for you to put people in prison and jail which you do people need to break the law so dont front and give them dont break the law when everybody knows you want them to break the law because you DO put people in prison and jail.(in order to do what you do people need to break the law) hence you want people to break the law, contrary to your 'dont break the law' or 'shouldnt break the laws' no need to pretend. there is a god i believe, cause when u think about there isnt even a reason we didnt wanna tell them .. we just want people in hell just because it makes u feel powerful

    July 7, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • Frank

      uh... what?

      July 7, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Looks like a section out of the bible – full of nonsense and circular logic.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
  16. Ordinary American

    Atheists- go to hell!

    July 7, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • raptor12

      Only if you won't be there!!!

      July 7, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • DrDiomedes

      No. I dont want to

      July 7, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
    • Scott

      I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints

      July 7, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
    • Sybaris

      Ordinary American.................. a perfect example of what religion does to people, makes them intolerant, scared, and wallow in assumed guilt. Have fun with that!

      July 7, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
  17. Dan Watson

    Wait until the atheist realize that every single traffic symbol is derived from sacred geometry. And what about all the Evolution Streets and Darwin Avenues? Hypocrisy much?

    July 7, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • raptor12

      Evolution and Darwin streets are the exact opposite of religion you dolt.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • Dan Watson

      Yeah, you didn't get the point did you? There's no reason anti-God signs should be paid for with my tax dollars if pro-God signs are banned all together.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
    • Dan Watson

      I mean seriously, what's going to happen if science proves the existence of G-d? Then can we have our signs?

      July 7, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • raptor12

      By the way Darwin kept his ideas secret for years and when he portrayed them he did so timidly which completely defeats the possibility he was an anti church advocate. He loved the church!!!

      July 7, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • the real john

      dan, God would never give us proof. first off, its not a currency in which he can be traded. secondly, weve already weaponized his word. And even if an athiest had proof, it would never be enough. if God stood before mankind and spoke, it would be attributed to mass hysteria. this is why proof doesnt work. It is everywhere and yet they do not believe. i look at my hands and i know God exists. He could bless them with a million dollars and they would gloat about how rich and smart they were. He could cure cancer and they would say it was evolution. there is none so blind as those who will not see.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • Dan Watson

      John you do not fully understand the will of G-d if you think He would not give us proof. He is right here with us, and there is a physiological way by which we can travel through space and time to his kingdom and experience G-d and his kingdom for ourselves. On December 29th 2010, I went there and saw it for myself. The proof is right there in front of you, but you need to train your eyes to see it first.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
    • Dan Watson

      Whoops I said kingdom twice.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
    • John

      Dan, just got home from work. The proof im talking about is the kind that an athiest is waiting for. Yes proof exists, it is all around me. That was my point when i said i could look at my hand and have the proof. An athiest is always waiting for proof to believe in God and my point is that proof and God have nothing in common, in relation to the "type" of proof they are seeking. That type of proof can and will always be refuted. The truth of God is beyond proof.

      July 7, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
    • Dan Watson

      John I still disagree. There is tangible, quantifiable proof of Heaven that can be extrapolated and delivered to the masses. Science need only devise the algorithm for unscrambling the visual information. I wouldn't be surprised if the Vatican already has a method of doing this.

      July 7, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
  18. Islander

    You are an idiot........ you are not supposed to be a SECULAR nation (under God)... you are just supposed to be operating in separation.........get it?............ Nope, you don't.

    July 7, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • Dan Watson

      If you really want to get down to it, Law should be removed from our government since it was a practice of the Jews before it was a practice of democracy. Look at your local sheriffs badge, those are religious symbols. Look at hospitals, those are all religious symbols too. Specifically the symbol of Constantine's conversion can bee seen on every ambulance in USA land.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • DrDiomedes

      Hammurabi was first law code (not Jewish)

      July 7, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
    • Frank

      That "under God" rubbish was added in the 1950s. Secularism is not evil. It simply means that we are free to worship (or not) in our own way, and that the government and religion shouldn't mix. If you need an example of the wisdom of secularism, compare our secular society to the ultra religious societies in Iran and Uganda. Is that how you want to live? I don't want to live that way. I say we all respect the beliefs of others, and keep religion and government separate. That's really the only way to ensure true religious freedom for everyone.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • Dan Watson

      Then perhaps religion isn't the only thing that needs to be separated from government. Why can Lord of the Rings fans have a street called Gandalf Street, but believers in G-d are silenced and attacked? Lord of the Rings is fiction but allowed to persist in our culture, but G-d cannot? 80% of people in the World believe in G-d, I think our representative Government is doing a fine job allowing for the faithful to express themselves and define their communities.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • Scott

      @Dan Watson: The thing is that the CONSTI_TUTION calls for a separation of church and state. It does not call for a separation of everything you don't like from the state. When LOTR becomes a major religion, then you can complain

      July 7, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      If/when the bible is finally recognized as a piece of (bad!) fiction, it can have a street too. But as long as it is divisive manmade tribal mythology (aka religion), the state is not supposed to endorse it in any way.

      July 7, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • Dan Watson

      It sounds like you want to live in Communist China and not the US of A. If the 80% of believers cannot freely express themselves through their representative government and build communities that reflect their faith then we have already lost. Attack Bush era faith based programs and straight marriage tax breaks if you want to separate the church from the state, don't stop people from building communities together and honoring the fallen.

      July 7, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • Dan Watson

      I mean honestly, you might as well grab a shovel and start digging up Arlington national cemetery starting with the removal of the crosses and stars of David that serve as headstones. In fact why endorse the burial of bodies in any way by the government, their preservation only serves religious purposes.

      July 7, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      @Dan Watson

      You just don't get it!

      People, individuals, can believe whatever they like and profess their beliefs in public as much as they like – atheists support this right.

      The government on the other hand is supposed to remain silent on religion – to do nothing to endorse it or to denounce it. Atheists support this.

      What is not permitted is the government endorsing religion in any way. A government paying for a street sign on public property with a religious context could be viewed as endorsing religion in general or endorsing a specific cult. *I* don't think this particular case is the one to make a big deal of, but others do – that is their right.

      July 7, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      If the tribal symbols on the headstones accurately reflect the beliefs of those buried, no problem. If the government assumed that those buried are a member of a particular cult, then they may have made a mistake that should be corrected.

      July 7, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  19. Michael

    I don't see how atheists are harmed by this sign. They are saying their "religion of denial of God" is better then someone else's religion of belief. I don't see how a sign can hurt anything as far as our nation's economy or anything else. Chill out atheists. Rejoice in our diversity of beliefs.

    July 7, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • raptor12

      Our country was founded on certain principles one of them is separation of church and state and the last time I checked that street was built by the government.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • Dan Watson

      Trust me, the church did not separate from the state. Otherwise, I wouldn't be paying for str8 people to marry and breed.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  20. terry wrist

    some people have waaaaaaaay to much time on there hands.

    July 7, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • Seamar

      Amen to that!

      July 7, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • Dan Watson

      I still can't get over how monotheistic religions still pay homage to Ra with their Amen madness.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.